Located about 800 meters from the hypocenter, Sanno Shinto Shrine barely had time to gasp. The instantaneous flash of heat, which reached as high as 4000 degrees on the ground, vaporized the leaves and branches on the camphor trees. Then the blast, ten times greater than the fiercest hurricane, pulverized the shrine buildings and slapped down all the stone balustrades, lanterns, sculptures and gates nearby. But when the wind finally abated and the dust settled, the stunned deities of the shrine found that one of the legs of the torii arch at the top of the steps had remained miraculously upright.

Now half a century has passed since that fateful day. The hillside is lush with greenery again, Sanno Shrine has been reconstructed, and the neighborhood is a similar — albeit modernized — version of its pre-war self. Nothing in this typical urban tangle even hints at the catastrophe that occurred here in 1945.

But the ominously significant one-legged arch continues to do its delicate balancing act and to look down upon the changing city. Robbed of a leg by the world’s first experiment with nuclear war, it points silently to the uneasiness of humankind and to the precarious state of a fragile planet forced to live with the threat of nuclear destruction. (Brian Burke-Gaffney) –

15may16. Nagasaki, Japan.


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